For a long time I avoided RSS. I assumed it was something very technical that I could do without. Now, I can't live without it.
My first foray into RSS was when I created feeds from my, and my company's blogs, which I'd built from scratch in 2002.
Entries finish with linked keywords a [find similar] link. I added these at the end of each RSS entry.
At first, I just put the introductions into the RSS feed. But having since subscribed to several feeds myself and realised how annoying it is to have to go to another web site to read the whole post, my blog feeds now contain full posts.
RSS by e-mail
I use FeedBurner for their RSS-to-e-mail service. It means that people can subscribe to an RSS feed and not even know it.
Then it occurred to me that I didn't have to create an RSS feed of a blog. I could create one for my jewellery shop so that people could find out when I've added new items, since most are one-of-a-kind.
The feed includes a thumbnail, the item name, its tags and a [find similar] link (duplicating functionality I added to the web site).
FeedBurner's e-mail subscription service is perfect for the jewellery shop as it suits jewellery customers; it accounts for 80% of the feed's subscribers!
The feeds I read
I currently subscribe to 82 (gosh! I just counted them) feeds.
Besides a handful of feeds to work-related blogs, they include my own feeds, several eBay searches, blog comment feeds and Upcoming events.
Most feeds are filed in a folder called play: feeds showing activity on my Flickr photos and my contacts' photos, craft blogs such as Crafty Daisies, kirin notebook, FlickrBlog and MOO's two blogs, and blogs by friends.
What is RSS for?
RSS has made it so easy to read things I am interested in that I regularly add feeds.
I don't have time to check 82 web sites every day (does anyone?) but RSS makes it easy for me to whizz through new content in one convenient place.
Each day, I relish reading the feeds in my play folder so that I can start the day inspired by all the yummy goodness that I can quickly scroll through. I click through to the site if I want to leave a comment.
All these feeds include full posts and all the images.
Pay it forward? Ouch!
When I subscribed to the RSS feed of Richard Bartle - co-creator of MUD - I mailed him when I noticed that the images were missing. Turns out that you have to include the full path to images and he fixed his feed.
And so, yesterday, when I discovered a blog with loads of wonderful design-themed imagery, I mailed them when I found that the images were missing from their RSS feed, thinking it was the same problem regarding links.
The result wasn't quite what I expected. Here's what happened next, illustrated by extracts from our mail.
my exclusion of images in the feed is actually intentional and, in my view, the feed is meant only to alert people to site updates. I've spent a great deal of time on the design and layout of the blog, so the idea that people might use the feed as a substitute for visiting the actual site isn't too appealing to me ;)
I said that although design is important, content is more important. I explained how I used design feeds and ended by saying that, with reluctance, I would not be subscribing to her feed.
Their reply, which included two personal insults, went on to say:
We are not paid for the content we post about and we are very much posting for those who want to view our site and not simply the commentary on an image that could easily be viewed on a search engine. I find it strange that you wouldn't subscribe to a feed based on the fact that there are no images.
I explained that I meant no offence and continued:
When one subscribes to tens of RSS feeds, an item has to grab you within a few seconds if one's to read the whole thing. I know that, presented with a screenful of text in a design blog, I'm likely to move on to the next item. I'm only saying this because I don't believe I am a minority of one and believe you will get a wider audience if you added images to your RSS feed.
A lot of my business is run under the idea that pleasing the people who love your work is top priority and reaching the general masses by doing something that you're not comfortable doing for whatever reason isn't the way I want to go about growing the site.
You assume that those who want to have full RSS posts aren't people who love your work and also aren't worth catering for.
And, after a final personal insult from them, that was that.
RSS spreads the word
On this issue, Frank says it's like someone who builds a lovely shop, but who then deliberately impoverishes all other media, tells potential customers "you have to come to the shop if you want to see anything."
I spent two years designing and building my web site and shop. I'm really proud of it and would love more people to visit it. But, remember my jewellery shop feed? Do you think as many people would click through to the shop if I didn't include pictures?
If the word is your opinion, your work or another way to show off your expertise, RSS will get it to more people.
If you try to control every aspect of the way your word is presented by crippling your RSS feed, you defeat the object of having a feed at all and can even alienate people.